From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty
“I have come to believe that the merits of a death custom are not based on mathematics (e.g., 36.7 percent a "barbarous act"), but on emotions, a belief in the unique nobility of one's own culture. That is to say, we consider death rituals savage only when they don't match our own.”I rarely read nonfiction. So rarely, in fact, that my parents felt the need to get me this book as a gift to “expand my horizons.” Needless to say, I was hardly thrilled with the prospect of starting it but I ended up enjoying it more than I expected.
From Here to Eternity is a recounting of author/mortician Caitlin Doughty’s travels through different cultures and the different ways people deal with the death of their loved ones, and often more importantly, celebrate their lives even long after they have died. Each section of the book is dedicated to a different funerary custom from around the world, including cultures in Indonesia, Mexico, Spain, Japan, Bolivia, and even a few non-traditional practices in the United States.
The topics she explored were very interesting and were definitely the highlight of the book, which I guess is to be expected from a work of nonfiction. Doughty is supposed to be funny, and unfortunately her style of humor and writing in general wasn’t doing it for me. It felt just a little too immature and like she was trying too hard, but the fascinating subjects and exploration of different customs were just enough to make up for the somewhat lacking writing.
I was also worried that this book would be overly depressing, since it is literally all about death. However, it is important to know that the tone is overall very uplifting. While she does discuss the nitty-gritty of various funerary practices, the real emphasis of the book is the importance of family, celebration, and remembrance of those who have passed.
I recommend this book to anyone who, like me, is looking to dip their toes into the realm of nonfiction writing, or anyone who is perhaps already submerged and is interested in learning about different cultures and family practices from around the world.
Doughty, Caitlin. From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good in Death. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2017.
Review written by Needle, Teen Volunteer